Weeding the mind

To write the next post, I have to admit first that I have been breaking a rule, not one of the heavy ones, but yes…

We are in our first two weeks of rains retreat. For the beginning of the rains, lay people have come to do some voluntary work in the monastery to keep it nice, like cutting grass, trimming trees, etc. Someone had also started to pull out weeds but since there are plenty, he could not finish and left me with a glance that said’ the rest of weeding is for you.

Weeding is not permitted for monks and nuns. We shall not damage plants.

When I was a lay person I had, at the time when I was living in Spain, a garden and did a lot of gardening, loved to do gardening. Being a zen practitioner and having started meditation in a monastery in Japan, it was natural to me to do gardening. To do weeding plating and so on. When we were in retreat, an hour every day of gardening was part of the practice and so I associated with gardening something peaceful, calming, with the intention to harmonize and beautify the environment. I avoided to harm beings and used no poisons and worked with hands or only light tools in order to have close attention and mindfulness for what I was doing. Then often, I would sit on the low wall and look over the neighbouring gardens, and look to the north west, over ‘es pla’, the flat plateau and the tramuntana mountains and watch the sunset.

Often the sunsets were incredibly beautiful, with colors changing from gold, orange, red, crimson and deep purple. But that leads far away from what I have the intention to write about.

Since I had become a nun, I had not been doing any gardeneing except watering plants, regardless of it being a flower, tree or weed. Sometimes, when still a Mae Chii, a monk wanted me to do trimming, cutting, pulling out of plants but I would not do it. At one time during walking meditation in Wat Rampoeng, where I had a room in at the second floor, I was still a lay person, I saw at every stop at one end of the walking path, when I stood against the window, a woman working in a garden across the street. In the beginning the weeds stood as high as herself, the entire garden was full of weed. Many days I walked back and forth for hours, many days she worked in the garden through the weeds for hours. I saw her suffering in the heat.
And the pulling out and digging up was only one small part of the process. Later had to come the planting, then the caring and maintainance, then weeding again and again. I understood why it is not good for monks and nuns to do gardening. In putting one little seed for a plant to grow or a vegetable to grow, there is so much wanting so much striving involved, the mind and the body need to be so much away from the meditation cushion.

I am very happy and rejoice that people undertake the effort of this process and as a vegetarian, I appreciate it greatly.

So, now here I stood with a small beautiful monastery, weeding half done with clear indications that nobody would come to finish it because people would have to work in the tea and fruit plantations, the lamyai is ripe and needs to be harvested, weeds are groing in the people home gardens also… I was told that before monks had been planting herbs and trees and had been doing the care as well.

For one year living here I refused to lay hands on plants other than watering everything that was green and would grow by being given water. This year however, there was for some reason more pressure from various sides that I would jump in and help with weeding. Not like, ‘do it or go’, but I see the the people every day on alms round, I see them getting sick, having pain, not being able to bend, having to care for their old parents, the children, for the sick, they work hard, it is not an easy life up here. So out of compassion, one day, I started to do some weeding at some places where a weed grows, a creeper that kills everything. It grows over everything, other plants, even buildings. I just wanted it to get down from some trees and flowers, not pull it out actually.
Any way, I stared weeding and thought that I should rather do weeding in my mind.
I tried to do it mindful and without harming, trying to have in my mind constantly thoughts about compassion, about the wish to be harmless, the intention to help, I tried to observe my mind closely while doing it. Thoughts arose about my laylaife and gardening, about zen and gardening, about many monasteries in the mahayana traditions where monks and nuns would not survive when they would not be planting, harvesting, weeding.

There was actually no moment, when I enjoyed the work, I did it because it had to be done and I use it to reflect on it. This particular creeper is a real intrudor, it invades, overgrows, dominates, creeps in, grows back, is resistant, … Just like our defilements. This creeper grows in very, very long thin strings that can easily be 10 meters or longer, it has leaves every 10 cm when the conditions are right. It can grow roots at every point of its strings and continue to grow from there in every direction, when it is not possible to grow new roots it still grows, spreading its strings in directions where it might find conditions to grow roots, often a string looks dead, no leaves, no roots, so one pulls at it, meter for meter from underneath a building and finds at the other end where it came out from underneath the building, that it was alive and green at the other end. It builds kind of a net of its strings interwoven, there is no beginning, no end, it is in fact not possible to pull this weed out, one can only pull oy parts of it, which gives the other parts strength to grow stronger and faster. To really kill this plant one had to be extremely persistend and diligent. If one had pulled out a string and its roots, but a part of the root might have remained in the earth, a new plant will grow from it. (Which means, in fact I did not break a role.)

So it is really exactly as it is with our defilements when one tries to observe the mind in order to root out the defilements. They are just like this weed and one needs to be very, very persistent and diligent. Then when one does the work, in the field or in the mind, suddenly under the weeds appear plants, beautiful flowers that have been planted once but are dying, suffocating, and they can start to grow, to florish. Same as in our minds, once we pulled out the defilements with right effort, our eautiful and good qualities can grow. Or, more likely – realistically – other weeds appear, thorny ones, hurting ones, the ones who when one gets in contact with them, closing their leaves when touched and almost seem to dissapear among grasses and leaves then. They might also grow just as a short plant above the earth, they have strong roots and spread them wide. Branches can grow flat on the ground and when overgrown by grass or something else they become roots. When the conditions are in favour, they can grow into bushes and trees and form a thicket which is terribly entangled. If that is not exactly as it is in our minds, with our defilements. I can’t speak for everybody , but it is exactly as I experience the weeding of defilements in my mind.

Just for the completeness of the story it may be said, that the unwholesome kamma in this case ripens immediately in form of skin allergies.

I feel very much at unease with doing it but did it more than once. Every time I did it y body was full of terribly itching rashes and blisters. Every litte rash, when scratched mulitplies and causes a rash at the next spot touched, when whatever it is is in the cothes and it touches the skin, rashes spread all over. Then a looong shower has to be taken, and mind you, the water is cold, clothes have to be washed and that probably more than once, Then, with some anti allergene cream, it is only a matter of hours that the itch dissapreas. Honestly, I thought I could go mad and scream or weep. But I didn’t, I bore it, stoic, lowering my head in deep respect and acknowledgemet of the law of kamma.

After a few meditation sessions after the weeding I need to add, that it was a very good lesson and I learned a lot. Most of all I learned about the subtle ways of kamma and its interrelation with intention. Trying to keep the mind as object of obsrevation during the weeding, I noticed, that even when I have the general good intention of beautifying and harmonizing the monastery, when I think I do it to help the people because they have no time for it and I would not ask them to do it anyway – there is one moment – cause the present moment can be quite short and passing quickly, there is that one little part of a second intention. Without an intention to bend down there would not be the impulse to the limbs to actually bend. That is the first interruption of that general flux of nice thoughts of harmony and helping. Without the intention to pull at the weed to uproot it, the hand would not go towards the weed. This is the second present moment in which the flow of wholesome thoughts is interrupted. The streching out of the hand cannot take place when the mind does not agree to the pulling out of the weed. So, the wholesomeness of intentions is twisting into unwholesome direction. And then for the actual pulling out an effort has to be made. An effort that has quite an aggression as underlying potential. It is too soft to be called ill will, really, but had the mind not as an underlying tendency the disposition to aggression, if the mind were total ahimsa, this effort would just not be possible. Probably one would not even bend down. This has not even something to do with the object to be pulled out, but merely with with part-of-second present moment thoughts which commonly happen unnoticed. In addition to that there is the judging of the mind ‘this is a good plant’, ‘this is a weed, it must be pulled out’ instead of the bare, impartial seeing of a plant of any kind. Etc.etc.

This goes beyond the capability of my intention of living a pure life… In order to live that, a pure, a holy life, one has to live as if one weren’t there.

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